A Faraway, Familiar Place: An Anthropologist Returns to Papua New Guinea
Quantity:
248pp. July 2013
A Faraway, Familiar Place: An Anthropologist Returns to Papua New Guinea
Author: Smith, Michael French;
A Faraway Familiar Place: An Anthropologist Returns to Papua New Guinea is for readers seeking an excursion deep into little-known terrain but allergic to the wide-eyed superficiality of ordinary travel literature. Author Michael French Smith savors the sometimes gritty romance of his travels to an island village far from roads, electricity, telephone service, and the Internet, but puts to rest the cliché of “Stone Age” Papua New Guinea. He also gives the lie to stereotypes of anthropologists as either machete-wielding swashbucklers or detached observers turning real people into abstractions. Smith uses his anthropological expertise subtly, to illuminate Papua New Guinean lives, to nudge readers to look more closely at ideas they take for granted, and to take a wry look at his own experiences as an anthropologist.

Although Smith first went to Papua New Guinea in 1973, in 2008 it had been ten years since he had been back to Kragur Village, Kairiru Island, where he was an honorary “citizen.” He went back not only to see people he had known for decades, but also to find out if his desire to return was more than an urge to flee the bureaucracy and recycled indoor air of his job in a large American city. Smith finds in Kragur many things he remembered fondly, including a life immersed in nature and freedom from 9-5 tyranny. And he again encounters the stifling midday heat, the wet tropical sores, and the sometimes excruciating intensity of village social life that he had somehow managed to forget.

Through practicing Taoist “not doing” Smith continues to learn about villagers’ difficult transition from an older world based on giving to one in which money rules and the potent mix of devotion and innovation that animates Kragur’s pervasive religious life. Becoming entangled in local political events, he gets a closer look at how ancestral loyalties and fear of sorcery influence hotly disputed contemporary elections. In turn, Kragur people practice their own form of anthropology on Smith, questioning him about American work, family, religion, and politics, including Barack Obama’s campaign for president. They ask for help with their financial problems—accounting lessons and advice on attracting tourists—but, poor as they are, they also offer sympathy for the Americans they hear are beset by economic crisis. By the end of the book Smith returns to Kragur again—in 2011—to complete projects begun in 2008, see Kragur’s chief for the last time (he died later that year), and bring Kragur’s story up to date.

A Faraway Familiar Place provides practical wisdom for anyone leaving well-traveled roads for muddy forest tracks and landings on obscure beaches, as well as asking important questions about wealth and poverty, democracy, and being “modern.”

18 illus., 3 maps
"A Faraway, Familiar Place is wonderful. It belongs alongside The Innocent Anthropologist for introducing readers to what doing anthropology can be like and what anthropologists actually do. I like the self-deprecating optimism [the author] brings to the book—it is the kind of tone that is likely to appeal to an Australian audience." —Richard Davis, Department of Anthropology & Sociology, University of Western Australia

"Smith’s book is a rare achievement: a readable, personal memoir that also provides a picture of Papua New Guinea that is accurate, nuanced, up to date, and a joy to read. It is not much of an exaggeration to say that with the publication of A Faraway, Familiar Place, we now have the one book that everyone—tourists, naturalists, development workers, and industry executives—ought to read to understand the country." —Alex Golub, Bulletin of the Pacific Circle (No. 32, April 2014)

"Smith is an academic grandchild of Margaret Mead--a student ofher student Theodore Schwartz--and he emulates Mead's skills inwriting well for general readers. Anyone interested in . . .faraway places grappling with global modernity will find thebook both readable and informative."—Choice (51:4,December 2013)

“In a fascinating and entertaining account, anthropologist Michael French Smith unpacks the meanings and riddles of villagelife on the Papua New Guinea island of Kairiru. His storytelling is compelling, his insights profound and frequent.”—Rowan McKinnon, writer and editor of the Lonely Planet guides PapuaNew Guinea and Solomon Islands; South Pacific;Australia; and others.

“If only all social scientists wrote this clearly! This account of a return visit to a village in Papua New Guinea reads like a memoir, but through it you gain a vivid and affectionate picture of a way of life and the changes—economic, political, and religious—that have occurred over half a century, in a way that will make every reader respond with greater understanding to reports of the gains and vicissitudes of ‘development’ around the world. I really enjoyed it.” —Mary Catherine Bateson, cultural anthropologist and author of Peripheral Visions: Learning along the Way and Composing a Life

“Michael French Smith has written an engaging and accessible account of returning to the site of his longterm field research, Kragur Island in the Sepik area of Papua New Guinea. As he has done before in two earlier books (of which A Faraway Place is a worthy companion), Mike has spun a great yarn. He possesses the admirable ability to translate personal experiences meaningfully and explains complex social phenomena in ways that the anthropologically uninitiated will understand and appreciate. He relates experiences that most anthropologists have had, but that others—students, social developers, those curious about the region—need to hear about. . . . There is nothing quite like it on the market.” —Richard Scaglion, Department of Anthropology, University of Pittsburgh

“A very thorough example of what it means to do anthropology. . . . The scholarship is excellent . . . the work is original.” —Jack Weatherford, Department of Anthropology, Macalester College, and author of Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World "It is Smith’s obvious and long-term familiarity with Kragur, the longevity of his conversations with people there, that make his descriptions of social change so very convincing and that account for the rare historical depth of his observations. . . . In parts, it reads like a memoir but through it one gradually gets an empathic, deeply contextualized, historically informed, holistic picture of contemporary rural Papua New Guinea. Smith experienced that local people read his books (a rare phenomenon in regards to ethnographies) and his third book is obviously written with them as an audience in mind. It is certainly also a book that anthropology lecturers will be grateful to have for introductory courses and that people interested in or visiting Papua New Guinea should definitely read." —Anthropos, 110:2 (2015)
Author: Smith, Michael French;
Michael French Smith helps organizations promote health, prosperity, and social justice in the U.S. and around the world through Michael French Smith Consulting. He lives in Silver Spring, Maryland.
Read Chapter 1 (PDF).
Acknowledgments 

Chapter 1 An Eccentric Longing  
Chapter 2 Thoroughly Modern Kragur 
Chapter 3 Hot Times on Kairiru Island 
Chapter 4 Wu Wei Wu 
Chapter 5 Is Kragur Poor? 
Chapter 6 Ancestors on Paper 
Chapter 7 Meetings and Magic 
Chapter 8 Preferential Ballots and Primeval Brothers 
Chapter 9 A Clean Election and Its Messy Aftermath 
Chapter 10 Life Goes On 
Chapter 11 God the Father, the Son, His Mother, and the Holy Spirit 
Chapter 12 No Two Ways about It 
Chapter 13 The Long Good-bye 
Chapter 14 One More Look 

Appendix: Tok Pisin and Tok Pisin Pronunciation 
Notes 
References 
Index



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